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Wednesday Morning: A shortened census

Email sent: Aug 5, 2020 6:30am
And what else you need to know today.

August 5, 2020

Good morning. A powerful explosion in Beirut left dozens of people dead and thousands injured. And Hurricane Isaias battered the Mid-Atlantic with heavy winds and rain. Let’s start with what’s at stake in the fight over the census.

Who gets counted?

Times Square in Manhattan last year.Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

Earlier this week, the United States Census Bureau announced it would end its efforts to count the number of people living in the country on Sept. 30, a month earlier than anticipated.

That could have severe consequences for the 2020 census, which has been hobbled by a pandemic that has made door-to-door data collection unsafe. Nearly 63 percent of U.S. households have responded to the census so far, and the bureau has offered few details of how it will meet the goal in a shortened time frame.

To make sense of the recent change and how it will influence the count, we spoke with Michael Wines, who covers voting rights for The Times.

Historically, the hardest-to-reach households and undercounted populations included minorities, undocumented immigrants, rural residents and low-income households. “A big worry is that undercounting will be greater than it has been in past censuses,” Michael said.

Because census officials are stopping the count early, they will have to resort to statistical methods to make educated guesses about households they can’t reach in time, Michael said. “Experts will tell you it’s not a very good educated guess.”

Census data, which is collected every 10 years, determines the allocation of political representation across the country, as well as federal funding to states and localities. Inaccuracies would skew these figures for the next decade.

The bureau said the recent change was part of an effort to meet the federal deadline, delivering the counts to President Trump by the end of the year. But, Michael added, some critics have called it an effort by the Trump administration to “sabotage the census to undercount minorities and noncitizens even more than they’re undercounted right now, which is substantially.”


1. Powerful blast rocks Beirut

Rescue workers were searching for survivors today after a pair of explosions, the second much bigger than the first, shook Beirut yesterday, killing at least 100 people and injuring more than 4,000. The bigger blast sent a mushroom-shaped plume of smoke above Lebanon’s capital, and its shock wave rippled out over miles, shattering windows and ripping roofs from buildings.

Officials said it appeared the second blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of explosive material that had been stored for years at a port facility where the explosion happened. The material, ammonium nitrate, is commonly used in fertilizer and bombs. Here’s what we know about the explosions.

More coverage:

2. Another vaccine shows promise

Novavax, which received $1.6 billion from the U.S. government to produce a coronavirus vaccine, announced encouraging results in two preliminary studies: In one, volunteers produced a high level of antibodies without dangerous side effects; in the other, the vaccine strongly protected monkeys from infections.

While some other vaccine candidates are further along with clinical trials, Novavax’s stands out because it is protein-based — the same proven technology used for existing vaccines against infections like shingles.

In other virus developments:

3. Hurricane Isaias hits the East Coast

A mobile home park near Windsor, N.C., that was hit by a tornado spawned by Isaias on Tuesday.Julia Wall/News & Observer, via Associated Press

Hurricane Isaias sped from North Carolina to the Northeast yesterday, flooding roadways, toppling trees and spinning off tornadoes. At least four people died, and more than three million customers lost power, including more than a million in New Jersey.

Officials said that the storm’s rapid pace helped to limit river flooding and allowed the authorities to quickly assess the toll. “All in all, this storm got in, got out pretty quickly,” Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina said. Because of that, he added, the damage was not “as great as it could have been.”

A pileup of hazards: The storm on the East Coast and a continuing wildfire in California offer “a preview of life under climate change,” Christopher Flavelle and Henry Fountain write, “a relentless grind of overlapping disasters.”

4. Seeking ‘good police’ in Minneapolis

The Minneapolis City Council pledged to drastically scale back the size and scope of the city’s police force after the killing of George Floyd. But residents of Minneapolis’s majority-Black North Side have mixed feelings about that effort — and about the wider push to defund the police by redirecting their resources to struggling communities.

Many North Side residents dislike the police but rely on them to respond to crime, and most say they prefer reforms like improved police training to defunding. Some have also accused elected officials of ignoring their views. As one resident told The Times’s John Eligon: “It’s good to have good police. It’s bad to have bad police.”

Here’s what else is happening


Over the past 40 years, chefs have been elevated to auteur status, with figures like Wolfgang Puck and Jean Georges Vongerichten lionized as lone artistic geniuses. That mythology has, in turn, fostered toxic workplaces for the line cooks, servers and dishwashers who labored under them.

“In the same way the auteur theory in film frames the director as the author of a movie’s creative vision, the chef has been considered entirely responsible for the restaurant’s success,” writes the Times restaurant critic Tejal Rao in a new essay, “Twilight of the Imperial Chef.”

As that title suggests, Tejal argues that the celebrity chef’s allure is starting to fade. Spurred by the #MeToo and anti-racism movements, restaurant workers are organizing and speaking out. Big-name chefs like Mario Batali have been ousted amid allegations of abusive behavior.

In their place, some restaurants have chosen to focus more on the teams of cooks, porters and other workers who together bring meals to life. Doing so encourages diners “to consider the restaurant as a whole — a collective — with so many people at work beyond the chef,” Tejal writes.


Make empanadas

Colombian beef and potato empanadas.Johnny Miller for The New York Times

For a midweek treat, try J. Kenji López-Alt’s recipe for Colombian empanadas stuffed with beef and potatoes. Small and satisfying, with a crisp corn crust, they can be kept relatively simple with the seasonings: salt, pepper, a dash of paprika and a little chicken bouillon. The filling uses half an onion and half a tomato, so save the other halves for a fresh salsa to serve alongside the empanadas.

The hockey bubbles are holding

The early success of the N.B.A.’s Disney World season — and the troubles with Major League Baseball’s regional travel — suggests that a bubble may be the only way a North American sports league can safely play games right now. The N.H.L. has adopted that tactic, with a distinctly hockey-ish twist: two bubbles, both in Canada.

The league has split its teams between Toronto and Edmonton, with players living isolated in a few hotels near the arenas. And while some players have complained that, with the stands empty, the intensity they’re used to in the playoffs is lacking, the plan is working so far: As of Monday the league had conducted over 7,000 tests, and none had come back positive.

Meet Sam Jay

Jingyu Lin for The New York Times

Sam Jay’s humor often has a cynical edge. The standup comic and writer for “Saturday Night Live” grew up a “weird Black kid” in Boston, lost both her parents by the age of 16, received a lupus diagnosis four years later and didn’t discover her homosexuality until her mid-20s.

But Jay’s wide-ranging, equal-opportunity provocations also celebrate standing out from the crowd. The jokes in her new Netflix special, which premiered yesterday, “reflect an eccentric mind working through issues, her startlingly funny jackhammer punch lines emerging from a deadpan glare,” writes the Times critic Jason Zinoman.



Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Pronoun for the slight majority of Americans (three letters).

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P.S. Our colleague Sarah Kliff has been writing about surprise coronavirus medical bills, and she wants your help. If you’ve been charged for testing or treatment of Covid-19, send Sarah your bill here.

David Leonhardt, this newsletter’s usual writer, is on break until Monday, Aug. 24.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about the protests against police brutality. This week’s “Popcast” answers listener questions about Taylor Swift’s new album.

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